New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 354

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Letters

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Taking wing
My mother recently called me a bird. I took it as it was meant - a reference to my wilful independence and love of freedom. However, the more I've thought about it the greater the compliment has become. Birdsong awakens us to the art of nature, birds' variety to nature's skill and imagination. To watch their effortless flight is a source of serene joy and the 'oneness' of a flock of migrants holds a lesson for us all.

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I want to thank you at the New Internationalist for the hope the issue Get it Right! (NI 352) revived in me. May it be the thermal on which we can all soar to greater heights just like those you mentioned have already done. It is time to be brave, quit the nest of ignorant comfort and plenty that we in the Minority World are all too prone to dwell in. Jump... it's time to learn to fly!

Harula Ladd (VSO Volunteer)
Rwanda

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‘free trade’ as
currently
contemplated
and practised, is
utterly unjust

Rational with it
I read your magazine and was amazed to find at last someone who can criticize free trade and globalization without being irrational.

I'm far from being a 'progressive' by modern standards - I'm really more stuck in the Middle Ages or late antiquity somewhere - but it does seem rather obvious that 'free trade' as currently contemplated and practised is utterly unjust. The world in its current sorry state seems divided into three camps: those who cannot or will not recognize this injustice (despite it being blatant); those who, having recognized it, have immediate recourse to some idiotic utopia or other; and you.

Jim Albrecht
Alaska, US

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Missing people
Your articles on The Other America (NI 351) were excellent, although I would have liked to have seen at least one focused on the struggles of Native Americans. I would suggest adding Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit to the book list for NI staffers and readers, for points of view often overlooked.

Bob Paulson
Isernhagen, Germany

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Catch 22
The US is the only global, mega-rich superpower which possesses overwhelming military might plus the overwhelming desire to flaunt and/or use it in order to impose the Pax Americana via the American Imperium on Planet Earth.

Small, relatively poor nations and governments which do not agree with the American unilateral view of everything seek insurance against American hegemonic aspirations and ambitions and consequential vassaldom for themselves by the possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WOMaD).

The possession of WOMaD by small nations and governments then acts as a trigger mechanism for the application ('clinical' to use the latest horrific euphemism of the warlike times!) of the overwhelming military might of the US.

Catch 22 - it's timeless, as is the individual and collective inability of political leaders to learn the lessons of history.

Tony Hosking
Darwin, Australia

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Corporate cowboys and the corrosion of democracy
The shocking thing about American society is not that it is unequal but the degree of inequality (NI 351). Since the 1970s, the US administration has been steadily pushing towards this wealth disparity. Its 'budget cuts' have always been part of the political landscape. President Bush's cuts in public expenditure have included $700 million from public-housing repairs and $200 million from training programmes for dislocated workers.

Public funds have been increasingly sucked from the public sector into the heavily militarized private sector. The concentration of wealth and power is a great deterrent to democracy. Civil and political rights are being eroded as the consequence of the implications of the Patriot Act.

Both King Bush the First and Second had big oil getting in bed with big politics. Since then, the corporate cowboys have never had it any better.

The current decline in the American Dream can only be distracted by terrorism scares, pretentious patriotism and warmongering. The real weapons of mass destruction will be dropped on the already devastated people of Iraq. Bush will time his war to mark the start of the American presidential campaign, to make sure there's certainly no 'regime change' at the White House. The Patriot Act will be further employed for more racist detentions and to suppress more dissent. The military adventure will temporarily alleviate the economic decline and bring much more wealth to the oil and arms corporations.

The question is, for how long will the American people be hushed up, toned down and laid low? And for how long will they compromise their constitution and democratic rights? There are already signs that not all American people can be cowed into following the rule of corporations without any regard for others or the environment. There are surely many who are realizing that the myth of being affluent and free which they are fed daily is Big Brother vocabulary for being insatiable consumers, unimaginative and ignorant of other people and their cultures.

Usama Al Shabibi
Edgware, England

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Challenging orthodoxy
How to crush AIDS (NI 346) did not challenge the traditional view of HIV/AIDS. To me, as a young Ugandan living in Britain, there are many questions I have about this illness or virus - I am classified in the high-risk category, under sub-Saharan African.

I would like you to challenge some of the orthodox medical establishment's views that you so readily printed in your issue, on behalf of people who have died and are suffering from lies surrounding HIV/AIDS. I was disappointed that you did not attempt to write about the alternative view that perhaps HIV does not cause AIDS, that maybe the HIV virus has never been isolated by a single scientist, that maybe the billion-dollar industry built up on HIV/AIDS wants us to believe something else.

Today in Uganda, you can't die of anything else but HIV/AIDS. What happened to malaria, TB, malnutrition, measles and other poverty-related illnesses? Nobody talks about these any more. This virus is so smart it plagues sub-Saharan Africa and ignores North Africa. It is found in thousands in Europe, yet in Africa is estimated in millions. In Europe, you get a test (assuming that it is accurate), in Africa you get diagnosed based on four clinical symptoms: diarrhoea, fever, persistent cough and weight loss. How equal this world is...

I ask you to address the alternative HIV/AIDS view.

H Nabatu
London, England

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I am at times
ashamed to live
in the ‘Texas of
the North’

Angry in Alberta
Imagine my surprise on opening an issue of the NI and seeing an article on my premier, Ralph Klein (Worldbeaters, NI 351) - it made my day. It's too bad you didn't have space to incorporate his recent remarks about the minimum wage. Alberta has the lowest minimum wage in Canada and Klein was defending it, saying it helped bring business to the province. I guess it's all part of the socalled 'Alberta Advantage'. The guy is a total moron, for lack of a better word (and to think a high government official lost her job for saying that about Bush), and I can say with the utmost sincerity that I am at times ashamed to live in the 'Texas of the North', seeing how much support a politician with Klein's track record has in this province. Yup, it's definitely a frustrating existence in Ralph's World.

David Laville
Edmonton, Canada

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Counterweight
What we need to do is to organize - like the people in East Germany did while under siege. They had weekly (Monday) demonstrations proclaiming 'We are the people!'

Well, we are the people of the world and under siege by 'evil', destructive forces, who don't even have the basic vision to carry us forward, but only control the media and poison public opinion. But that's also a weakness.

These forces are such amateurs, that everyone can see through them. If only there was a counterweight. Let there be WEEKLY demonstrations all around the world, in every country, countering the war propaganda with the serenity of truth: people with peace!

Christian van Rossum
Biggenden Shire, Australia

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RSVP
I think the war on terror is fraud and Bush is a racist. Well human rights are every human's rights, aren't they? I would like to see Bush's answer to all the war crimes and treaty-breaking that he approves of.

Michael Dunn, aged 12,
Whangarei, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Letter from Lebanon

Beach of dreams
Reem Haddad is sick of politicians who put profit before the people of Beirut.

I HAD noticed it but hadn't given it much thought. There had been talk some time back that Beirut's only public beach was going to be spruced up for the summer season. The removal of the stone stairs leading down to the sandy coast probably meant that better steps were going to be built, I thought. I was pleased.

Then I received a call from the president of Greenline, a Lebanese environmental organization.

'You won't believe this,' he said, angrily. 'They are going to develop Ramlet al Baida.'

Ramlet al Baida - which translates as 'white sand' - is the only beach along Beirut's coastline that is free. The rest of the coast is either too rocky or already developed into beach resorts. Entrance fees are set at ridiculously large sums of $15 to $20 per person - way beyond the scope of ordinary people. In an overbuilt city like Beirut, Ramlet al Baida is a refuge for many families.

Illustration: Sarah John I never thought anyone, not even our business-riddled Government, would think of confiscating it from the people. But, once again, I prove to be naïve.

Greenline's president, Salman Abbas, quickly managed to obtain some 'secret' plans clearly showing that most of the 50,000 square metres of sandy beach are destined to become yet another posh sea resort - complete with a marina. 'Just where are the poor supposed to go now?' he thundered.

For Salman, for journalists, for Beirutis, it was yet another struggle. Salman sighed heavily. He knew as well as I did that we are up against not just a business tycoon but a powerful politician. A politician who owns the real-estate company bent on developing Ramlet al Baida.

By now, much has already been done - in keeping with the traditions of our businesspeople/politicians - discreetly. The land has already been bought and laws, which usually forbid the development of the coastline, have been changed. It wouldn't be the first time that decrees and laws have been changed to accommodate a politician's business project.

The list of examples of political profiteering is long. Unregulated quarries eating up Lebanese mountainsides were kept open for years as many of them were either owned by politicians or were giving them a cut. Beirutis' lobbying efforts to turn the city's racetrack into a park (there isn't a single park in the city) fell through because a politician baulked at it. One needn't wonder who is getting a cut from the track's takings.

A few kilometres north of Beirut, hectare upon hectare of coastline were reclaimed to accommodate a sea resort and a highly priced residential area (which still remains largely unbuilt). And in the south tons of sand were taken off the coastline and sold. A zoning law was changed for three days and then changed back again, in an area a short distance from Beirut. The three days were ample time to get a building permit to build three monstrous high rises. Behind each project was a politician.

I understood very well Salman's dejection. Environmentalists were still recovering from their failure to turn the racetrack into the city park. 'This politician,' he said, 'is even more powerful.'

Greenline members sent out letters to the Beirut municipality. All the ministries and members of parliament were contacted. Noone replied. In September, Greenline held a rally on the beach with activities for children.

People began to realize that their precious beach was in danger. Beachgoers have taken to either jumping down the wall to the beach or bringing their own ladders.

'Where else are we supposed to go?' said Ali Hassan, accompanied by his wife and five children. 'I don't own a car so I can't take my family elsewhere. And I certainly can't afford to go to private resorts. It's like they (politicians) don't want us poor people to exist. I'm sorry but we do.'

According to the 'secret' development plans, a tiny part of the beach will remain for public use - but it's way too small to absorb the estimated 500,000 people that frequent the beach every summer.

The fight continues. The politician is keeping silent. But by now, we are familiar with their plots: they deny all accusations and wait until the hue and cry has died down. And then, when people least expect it - perhaps during the night or on a cold winter day when no-one is around - the digging begins. By then it will be too late.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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